Laurence and a waterfall

These Are My People: Laurence’s Story

“I think the hardest part of my story is that I didn’t know anything. I’m still coming to grips with that.”

Laurence grew up in Ireland and came to the US in the early 1990s. He always considered himself a very healthy person with an allergy problem. “I look after my health, I do all my doctor visits, I did everything I was supposed to,” he says.

But as time went on, he noticed getting more and more fatigued. He wondered if it was the allergies. “I would feel really worn out, but I was also really hard on myself. The more I felt worn out, the more I pushed myself.” Laurence would go on long walks no matter how tired he was. “When I think back on that, I just cringe,” he says.

“A stress test I will never forget.”

He would get pains all over and pressure in his head, assuming it was his allergies. This was the same thing his doctors told him. They encouraged him to dress warm in the Seattle weather and to do nasal rinses. “I took nasal rinses for years and years and it kept getting worse,” he explains.

Then his wife suggested Laurence get a second opinion. His new doctor suggested an electrocardiogram (EKG) to check out his heart and the results were not good. Laurence was sent for what he calls “a stress test I will never forget for the rest of my life.” He climbed on the treadmill and couldn’t do much. The technician told him to stop, immediately go down to the pharmacy, and get some aspirin. Laurence knew that wasn’t good.

The cardiologist talked to him about his angina (chest pains) and scheduled Laurence for an angiogram right around Christmas of 2019. A coronary angiogram is a procedure where dye is injected into the coronary arteries using a hollow plastic tube. Then, X-rays are taken to see how blood is flowing in the arteries. If a blockage is detected a thin catheter with an inflatable balloon is used to open the blocked artery. Often a small mesh tube known as a stent is inserted in the artery to help keep the artery open in the long-term.

“Blockages all over the place”

When Laurence had this procedure, he had four stents placed and “blockages all over the place.” The team only felt comfortable addressing two of the blockages.

“I came out of the hospital and took a walk around the lake and couldn’t believe the difference. All my nasal issues were gone. All the pressure in my head, all that stuff, it all went away. So what I thought was allergies for years was not. It was heart disease.”

It wasn’t the allergies. But Laurence still didn’t know what caused the heart disease. As far as he knew, he had no risk factors for heart disease.

“I got lucky that my cardiologist went out of town.”

Then, in 2021, Laurence had what he considers a lucky moment. “My cardiologist was leaving town.” He saw a new cardiologist who sent Laurence to the University of Washington for a stress test. This time, he was on a treadmill in a room with five doctors. They determined Laurence needed another stent, but the surgeon said something that stuck with Laurence. He said, “I can fix the blockage, but you got something else that is causing the blockages, and you need to talk to your cardiologist about it.” That was the first time the reality of his situation hit him.

During a follow up, Laurence’s new cardiologist agreed that what was happening to him was not lifestyle-driven or normal. “He looked at me and said ‘you look pretty healthy and everything, so you shouldn’t be having all these problems. There’s something going on, and there is a blood test we can do for a genetic risk factor, but there’s no cure for it. If you’re interested, we can do the test.’” Laurence, an electrical engineer who appreciates all data, said yes.

That thing with no cure is elevated lipoprotein(a), also known as Lp(a).

They did the test, and Laurence’s Lp(a) was, in fact, high.

“I love the Family Heart Foundation – these are my people!”

 

"It kind of cleared a lot of things up at that point. We can be so hard on ourselves, and there’s a stigma in our society about heart disease. Even people in my own family in Ireland thought my heart issues were because I lived in the US and it’s a higher stress society.”

Laurence was glad to have answers, and he began doing some digging into his family history. As it turns out he had several relatives who had heart issues. “We never knew. We had no idea, so I’ve been spreading the word about this Lp(a) and telling my family members to get their levels tested, since it is genetic.”

He’s had great help with his mission from the Family Heart Foundation. He says, “It’s amazing how unknown the genetic side of it all is. That’s why I love the Family Heart Foundation – these are my people!”

Connecting with Family Heart resources has pushed Laurence to learn all he can. “The genetic stuff is really interesting,” he says. “I read the stories and watch the videos. I’ll watch some of them more than once because there’s so much information. Lp(a) is so complicated. I’ve learned so much about it, and I keep learning more all the time.”

“There’s always a bigger picture.”

It’s not just the data and research that pulled Laurence into the Family Heart community. “The stories are my favorite part.” He explains that the medical side of this Lp(a) journey is hard, but the emotional part is “a hundred times harder.” Laurence has found comfort in connecting with others on their own journey.

And he loves to show us all the bigger picture. “There’s always a bigger picture,” he explains, “In the moment things can feel like they’re pretty bad, but in the bigger picture, I’m probably doing better than so many people my age because I know all of this and I’m really looking after myself.”

Seeing this bigger picture also helps Laurence keep his optimism. “It’s such an exciting time in medicine. We’re on the cusp of amazing things, like with more directive medicines that can go straight where they need to go. I’m pretty optimistic.”

 

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